53: On the Road with Alzheimer’s

53: On the Road with Alzheimer’s

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

On the Road with Alzheimer’s

Kindness, like a boomerang, always returns.

~Author Unknown

My husband Bill Bailey was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s in 2008. Although he was not outwardly suffering from the disease, we both felt disappointment at the changes that were to come.

His career as a research scientist was demanding and he was making more and more mistakes. Reluctantly, he opted for early retirement at age fifty-eight. He found himself facing long days with not enough to do, so he decided to volunteer for the highway department and “adopt” a highway — keeping it clear of litter, and monitoring it with the use of a hard hat, signs, and trash bags.

He was meticulous in his responsibilities, and for more than a year singlehandedly maintained that stretch of road with his long-handled grabber, filling bright orange trash bags to capacity.

The highway department put up a plaque on the part of the highway Bill had adopted, memorializing its adoption by Bill, with the words “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey,” a classic old song.

Then Bill’s condition worsened, and he couldn’t continue his volunteer work. We were faced with his transition to an assisted living facility. He said the one thing he wished he could take with him was the sign that had his name on it from the highway. In my haze, I considered hatching a plan to unscrew and grab the sign late at night, but my neighbor thought otherwise, suggesting instead we ask for it from the highway department.

To me, that sounded even dumber than my plan. I laughed about my silliness with my co-workers and then put it out of my mind.

Several weeks later a brown paper package arrived on my desk, and inside it was the blue highway sign, “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey.” I broke down, and then my boss told me to take a closer look. The sign had no holes. The highway department had made me a duplicate and told me the original would remain on that stretch of highway in honor of Bill and his dedication. Someone at the highway department had been affected by Alzheimer’s disease and helped with this show of kindness.

The sign is now with Bill, in a nursing facility, and its twin is posted on the road along a very well-tended stretch of highway in Bon Air, Virginia.

~Kitty Kennedy

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